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Summer camps and the future of the church

Summer camps and the future of the church

Wayne Meisel, the director of the Center for Faith and Service at McCormick Theological Seminary in Illinois, believes that one of the keys to reinvigorating the church is summer camp. For Meisel, summer camps serve as centers for spiritual formation and can teach congregations a lot about Christian formation:

Summer camps, as much as any other church activity, inspire, seek out, identify, and bring along individuals who can play significant leadership roles in the church. At a time when the church is being criticized for failing to attract and retain strong leadership, it would behoove those who care about the future of the church to think back on where they spent their summers.

This is why ten seminaries and divinity schools have come together to sponsored the New Faces of Ministry Tour where current students and recent graduates to go out to visit summer camps and share their stories and their vision for ministry. Students from different schools are pairing up, renting cars and driving around to visit and present at camps in twenty-one day intervals. Students will do everything from make formal presentations to listening about community work that is already happening to informal conversations. The intent is to help camp counselors connect the important roles they already fill to potential leadership roles in the church. The seminaries and divinity schools that are sponsoring the tour include: The visionary institutions that worked together to create the program include McAfee, Princeton, Wesley, Andover Newton, Earlham, Columbia, Christian Theological Seminary (IN) McCormick, University of Chicago, Luther (MN) , Austin, and Union (NY).

As part of the New Faces of Ministry Tour, students will be researching and identifying exemplary camps to be selected for the upcoming list, Summer Camps that Change the World. Like the lists that have been created for seminaries and service programs, the Center for Faith and Service will be looking to lift up and affirm these important institutions that often go unnoticed but are playing a key role in faith formation and leadership development.

For the full article from Meisel, please visit the Huffington Post religion page.


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Jonathan Chesney

I can only speak for my own as I know it, but it has a pretty large scholarship fund, as well as keeping the price for attendance pretty low as camps go (again, haven’t done a direct comparison, but as far as I’ve heard and understand it. The longest session at McDowell, Senior Camp, 10 days, is $540, decreasing for shorter sessions.) The entire diocese supports the camp strongly and making it available to all is one of its goals.

It is not a fancy camp or an activities based camp; canoeing, hiking, arts and crafts, swimming, etc., while living in non-climate controlled, concrete cabins (in Alabama summer heat.) But it is centered on relationships and Christian community and I’d make the claim that the diversity of our diocese is reflected or better at our camp (while I could agree that for our diocese there could always be improvement.) But, for McDowell at least, this is not a retreat for the rich and elite; it is open to all, I’d say pretty available to all, would say, actually, does touch a reasonably larger percentage of our diocese and I’d argue, as above, if it touched even more, we’d be the better for it. And, I’d argue, our camp does a better job courting and building relationships with those outside the boundaries of our diocese; people of differing denomination, and even of other faith and no faith consistently attend and even serve as counselors.

Not to say there aren’t challenges or that it is the only thing that matters for the health of our diocese; but if what McDowell provides to those who come there and to the diocese as a whole, and its availability to a cross-section of the larger community is unique, then maybe more places should look to it as a model.

John B. Chilton

Where is the future of the church? Some say it is in serving a more diverse population. But most summer camps I know are not diverse. There are kids in our churches whose families cannot afford to send them to camp.

I wonder about the heart of the diocese if it doesn’t reach a cross-section of the young people in the diocese.

I also wonder how much camp perpetuates the in-crowd in the diocese.

And while I have little doubt that camp changes the kids who attend, the percentage we reach is quite small really.

Jonathan Chesney

I suspect we’d find some correlations between the healthiest dioceses and those with the strongest Camp and Conference Center youth programming and summer camps… I know Camp McDowell, in Alabama, is a huge factor in the faith lives of many, especially in the area of lay and ordained vocations. To the point where many of us call our camp “the beating heart of the diocese.”

I’ve also seen the evangelistic effect of the community in these places on people for whom faith might not otherwise be an option.

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